We stand in community and solidarity with all who fight black inequality. We are collectively committed to making progress in this vital work.
Read our statement on diversity and inclusion.
That is why I chose to make racism the central focus of the most important Woodlawn speech of the year, Graduation, to show that fighting racism pertains directly to the school's mission and the work we share, educating leaders who will activate the words of our mission.
Here is the text of the 2020 Graduation Speech:
Good afternoon and welcome – Welcome back!
This is the first gathering on our campus in 84 days, and on behalf of our Woodlawn School family, we are delighted to be here today honoring the Class of 2020, celebrating all they have achieved, sharing our delight in the adults they have become, and wishing them Godspeed on the journey ahead.
On behalf of our Founders, our Board, our faculty and staff, the 131 alumni whose ranks you will soon join, and, most of all your fellow students – your Kindergarten buddies who have found in you people worth looking up to, your classmates of all ages who treasure you as friends and mentors and sources of strength and joy –
I am honored to welcome you, the Class of 2020, and your loved ones to this, Woodlawn School’s eleventh graduation ceremony.
Eighteen years ago, our Founders, Karen and Dwayne Bowman, dedicated this school to the mission of producing independent lifelong learners who are responsible, contributing members of a diverse global society.
Ladies and gentlemen join me please in thanking the Bowman’s for their selfless devotion to Woodlawn School, and for the way they help every member of our school family learn more, do more, dream more and become more. Thank you, Karen and Dwayne!
The mission they set forth for our school eighteen years ago is more powerful and more needed than ever.
The state of our nation today – the state of our world today – shows us the importance of independent, lifelong learning in pursuit of responsible contributions, contributions that serve all members of a diverse, global society.
The forces of ignorance, fear and hatred have always been among us.
Those things which cause people to scorn diversity, to speak and act in ways that are irresponsible, to use ignorance and fear for personal gain, are, sadly, a permanent part of the human condition.
Those feelings and fears can sometimes dwell within us and we can all learn to master them, but those who would exploit them have always been among us, and we must work together to stop them.
So, how do we make ourselves strong? How do we make one another strong?
Everything we know about history, all we have learned about the human condition, teaches us those things and the people who would exploit them can only be held mastered, only be held a bay, by people who think for themselves.
People who embrace lifelong learning.
People who choose to live and work in ways that bring out the best in others.
In so doing, we bring out the best in ourselves.
Lifelong learning means not just an open mind, it means having an open heart. It begins with empathy.
When empathy is at the heart of lifelong learning, the kind of learning we seek is that which is defined by Saint Francis, “… Not so much to be understood as to understand…”
Seek to understand their plight.
To share their burden, to see their cause as our cause.
Then learn what the facts are. Then learn what to do. Then work in ways that unite and engage. Then act. Together.
All the major religions of the world, a wide range of faiths and beliefs that comprise some 96% of all people, have a version of the Golden Rule. It is nearly universal. Racism violates the Golden Rule.
In the days and nights of anger and pain that have followed the killing of George Floyd, pain that once again calls us to confront the deep divisions in our land and in our hearts.
We see our embrace of the Golden Rule crippled by a lack of empathy in the face of expediency, a lack of independent thinking and a scorn of lifelong learning, especially when it calls for us to confront things which must be unlearned – racism must be unlearned, separatism must be unlearned.
Until we first learn how others have been mistreated and how they need to be treated, we will never truly know and practice the good of how we all must be treated.
Whenever anyone is treated with a lack of dignity and respect, we are all diminished, we are all in danger of mistreatment.
When we allow any of us to rob another of dignity, the indignity falls upon us all.
When we allow any of us to act in wanton disregard of a black man’s life, when some believe and act as if black lives do not matter, then no life matters.
We all matter, or no one matters.
Members of the Class of 2020, we know we are sending you into a broken world, a world in need of your great strengths.
Your embrace of lifelong, independent thinking.
Your undying commitment to learn, relearn and, when needed, unlearn those things that will enable you to know what is positive, know what is good and what is right.
To know what is needed so that you will make the kinds of positive contributions to a world whose true strength lies in its embrace of diversity and its ability to unite, not to divide.
We know that the ignorance, fear and hatred of our times can be mastered because we have seen it done before, and we will see it again, when, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, the better angels of our nature prevail.
Members of the Class of 2020, we see in you the better angels of our nature.
We see in you independent thinkers, lifelong learners, responsible, contributing members of a diverse global society.
We see in you the embodiment of the words and spirit and dreams of our Founders.
We see in you the power and promise of the Woodlawn Way.
We see in you all those things are exactly what the world needs.
Most of all, you remind us that when the things we see in you are at the forefront of our thoughts, words and deeds, we advance together.
All of us. All together.
Class of 2020, we are proud of you. We know that all that is right in you is exactly what we all need, and we are applaud you.